We need to be reminded of the great things we have achieved, so we can stop hanging our heads.
This list could stretch into the tens of thousands, if we listed all the literature and scientific discoveries and paintings and temples and sculptures and musical compositions and so on.
Parthenon, Athens, Greece
But here are just one hundred representative examples of our achievements of which the West can truly be proud, in rough chronological order.
- Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey is still of unsurpassable beauty and majesty.
- Greek philosopher Democritus theorized that matter consists ultimately of tiny indivisible particles called atomoi or atoms.
- Classical Athens worked out a full-fledged democracy in contrast to Persian gigantism and authoritarianism.
- Hippocrates, probably a contemporary of Socrates, undertook the first detailed study of human anatomy and recognized diseases have natural causes.
- The classical Greek development of dramatic tragedy and comedy is timeless.
- The Parthenon temple to Athena (see image above) is the jewel of classical architecture that survives in modified form today in buildings like the US Supreme Court.
- Thucydides was the first critical historian, even more so than Herodotus.
- Plato argued for the soul’s existence and for its virtue that leads to happiness.
- Aristotle laid out the basic philosophy of biological sciences and opened the door to evolution and laid out the laws of logic and explained virtue ethics in Nicomachean Ethics.
- Classical and Hellenistic Greek sculpture is still beautiful (despite today’s modernism and postmodernism).
- Aristarchus in the third century BCE argued that the sun is the center of the planetary system system.
- The Hippocratic Oath inserted ethics into medicine.
- The Roman Republic served as a model for the American Republic, after some adjustments.
- Building on Hippocrates, Galen established the basic principles of anatomy and physiology.
- Early Christianity spread around the world and introduced ethics based on God’s love and law.
- Early Christianity honored the downtrodden and womankind, offering them equal salvation.
- Augustine was one of the great geniuses of humanity, whose publications are still enjoyed and instruct us today.
- Charles Martel, Frankish ruler, defeated Abd ar-Rahman and stopped aggressive Islamic jihad, at the Battle of Tours, near Poitiers, in 732 (one hundred years after Muhammad died).
- In 1085, Christians seized the Muslim stronghold of Toledo and began the gradual reconquest of Spain (see 1492, below), after aggressive Islamic jihad had taken it centuries before.
- In 1095, after four hundred and sixty-two years of aggressive Islamic jihad, Pope Urban II, as a defensive response, finally called the First Crusade to protect pilgrimage and trade routes.
(The later Crusades tried to do the same thing, but they’re open to interpretation, and I can’t endorse everything the Crusaders did.)
- In 1215, The Magna Carta restricted the king’s power, a document used in subsequent centuries to advance liberty.
- In the 1260’s, Thomas Aquinas advanced rational arguments for the existence of God, which are still studied to this day.
- As Christianity grew over the centuries, it opened the door to science because its theology said nature is not a living being, but inanimate and can be studied rationally.
(Yes, individual churchmen opposed or were afraid of science, but the seeds of religious freedom in a streamlined Christianity opened the door to scientific inquiry.)
- In the 1400’s Renaissance artists first used math to regulate painting, so Western art produced pleasing images to the eye and rational mind. Leonardo DaVinci’s painting Mona Lisa (1503) is a high point of the High Renaissance.
- In the 1400’s and 1500s, Renaissance sculpture revived classical and Hellenistic models and created works of timeless beauty. Michelangelo’s David (1504) is the hallmark of the High Renaissance.
- In 1434, Johann Guttenberg invented moveable type.
- Johann Gutenberg printed the Bible, an edition of the Latin Vulgate, using movable type, between 1450 and 1456. If anyone could not afford a private printing press (and most could not), the pencil was invented in 1500.
- In 1492 Columbus lands on islands off North America.
- In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, king and queen of Spain, drive the Moorish Muslims out of their country.
- Opening the door to the Reformation, Renaissance learning improved on Medieval scholasticism.
- The Reformation allowed freedom of conscience which promised (future) religious freedom.
(Yes, leaving the simplicity of the gospel, Protestants and Catholics fought each other after the Reformation was launched, but the Age of Reason, below, woke them up.)
- In 1517, Luther nailed the 95 theses on the Castle church door in Wittenberg.
- In 1526, William Tyndale published the first New Testament in English, based on Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. This is one more step towards freedom of religion and conscience.
- Martin Luther released the first printed German Bible in 1534.
- In 1539, the Coverdale Bible (translator is Miles Coverdale) was the first translation of the whole Bible, based on Tyndale’s New Testament, the Latin Vulgate, and Lutheran teachings.
- In 1536 Michelangelo added the Last Judgment to the Sistine Chapel.
- In 1536, Calvin published his systematic theology Institutes of the Christian Religion, one of the most influential books of the Reformation.
- Correcting Ptolemy’s complicated earth-centered theory, Copernicus revived the ideas of Aristarchus and argued that the sun is the center of the known universe, in 1543.
- At the Council(s) of Trent (1545-63), Roman Catholics reacted to the Reformation by improving their practices and policies.
- In 1598 France’s King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, which gave French Protestants religious freedom.
(When Louis XIV revoked it in 1685, this launched French Protestant migrations to America, a benefit to the New World.)
- The Age of Reason (c. 1600-1800) gradually opened new lines of thought that challenged religion, like Descartes’ skeptical methods in 1637-1644. This meant the church of all denominations had to stop fighting each other in war–eventually they learned that lesson.
- Shakespeare presented Hamlet in 1600 and King Lear and Macbeth in 1609.
- Jamestowne was founded in 1607.
- Francis Bacon called for a new scientific method based on experimental induction, in 1605.
- John Napier invented logarithms in anticipation of computer science, in 1614, and Wilhelm Schickard invented the mechanical calculating machine in 1623.
- In 1620, the Mayflower lands at Plymouth Rock.
- In 1623, patent law was developed in England and forms the basis of intellectual and material ownership and capitalism and liberty to enjoy one’s own inventions and ideas.
- William Harvey described the circulation of blood and the function of the heart as a pump, in 1628, and Blaise Pascal invented a calculator, in 1645.
- Americans began to celebrate Thanksgiving yearly, in 1630.
- Robert Hooke used the microscope to describe the cellular structure of plants in 1665, and Isaac Newton worked out the mathematics for natural laws, in his Principles, in 1687.
- The English Bill of Rights was enacted in 1689, a steppingstone for the American Bill of Rights in 1791.
- The Enlightenment philosophers argued for religious tolerance, and in the 1700’s all denominations of the church finally stopped fighting each other in wars and argued their theologies more calmly.
- John Locke wrote Second and Third Letters on Toleration (1690 and 1692), which challenged Christian denominations in Europe to get their act together and stop persecuting each other. Religious liberty.
- In 1689, John Lock published Treatises on Government, which argued for the priority of legislation over a king’s or an executive’s decrees. This text deeply influenced America’s Constitution one hundred years later.
- The first stage of the Industrial Revolution improved agricultural sciences and machine power, in the mid-1700’s. This fuels prosperity.
- The First Great Awakening begins in 1726, in a Presbyterian church in New Jersey. It is a series of revivals that sweep through the American colonies, peaking in 1740-42. Its hallmark is the New Birth or being born again. Key figures: Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield.
- In 1764 Voltaire published his Philosophical Dictionary, and in it appears an article on toleration, which challenged the church denominations in Europe to get their act together. Religious liberty.
- Robert Raikes launched Sunday school in England, in 1765, to promote basic education and the Bible.
- Thanks to the effects of the Reformation, the American Revolution produced documents of freedom, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which inspired other revolutions for freedom around the Western world.
- The American Revolution led to the French Revolution (1789), which, while devolving into excess, still offered freedom for Europe, at least in its documents.
- First human flight was accomplished by Jean F. Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes, in Paris, using a hot air balloon made by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, and in 1783 and in 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John J. Jeffries made the first balloon crossing of the English Channel.
- The spinning jenny was invented in 1765, cotton gin in 1793, and the steam-powered boat, in 1803.
- Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations (1776), the first large treatment of free market capitalism.
- In Europe Immanuel Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason (1781 and 1787), which attempted to bridge Kant’s empiricism (experience is the source of knowledge) and Descartes’ rationalism (reason alone can acquire some knowledge).
- Kant also published his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785, 1786), which asks: Can you will that your personal maxim can become universal law? In other words, what if everyone did it? It also says not to treat humans, who are rational beings, as means (steppingstones) to an end (goal or purpose), but as the end in themselves. In other words, treat humans respectfully and with dignity.
See an Outline of Kant’s Ethics.
- From the late 1780s to early 1840s, the Second Great Awakening encompassed multiple elements: Widespread distribution of Christian literature; Reformed preaching by theological descendants of Jonathan Edwards; emotional camp meetings in Kentucky and Tennessee; stunning conversions and changed lives; waves of college revivals (as at Yale and Princeton); urban church revivals; and physical manifestations (running, trembling and jerking).
- The West gradually abolished slavery: American Quakers in 1761, in their own communities; Vermont in 1777, the first state to do so; Denmark in 1792, the first European nation to do so; Spain in 1811; France in 1827; Great Britain in 1833; the US banned the importation in 1808, and abolished it in 1865.
- Mozart composed the Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Eine kleine nachtmusik in 1787, Jupiter Symphony in 1788. Beethoven premiered the Fifth Symphony in 1808 and the Ninth Symphony in 1824.
- In the latter half of the 1800’s the second Industrial Revolution got into full swing.
- An unprecedented number of colleges was founded, fueled by the American Second Great Awakening, many colleges cropping up in frontier towns.
- The American Tract Society was formed to promote literacy and basic Christianity, in 1825.
- In 1829, the typewriter was invented.
- George Cayley flew the first steam-powered airship over Paris, in 1852, and Jean-Etienne Lenoir built a gas-fueled internal combustion engine, in 1860.
- The first transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory, Utah, in 1869.
- In 1878 Eadweard Muybridge analyzed the movement of animals through sequential photographs, using series of cameras; and in 1879 photogravure process is invented. And in the same year the electric train was demonstrated in Germany by Werner von Siemens; the world’s first public electric railway was launched in Brighton, England; and Thomas Edison invented electric light bulb.
- In the 1870s and beyond, Modernism in painting breaks free from old forms. Though many object to its wild appearance, it is mentioned here because it express human liberty.
- In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler developed a successful lightweight gasoline engine and fit it to a bicycle, a prototype of motorcycle, then to a four-wheeled carriage to produce an auto–mobile, in 1886
- British physician Edward Jenner developed a safe smallpox vaccine using cowpox virus (1796). Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine for rabies (1885). German immunologist Emil von Behring and Japanese bacteriologist Kitasato Shibasaburo successfully tested vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus (1894-1904). A. E. Wright developed typhoid vaccine (1898). Tuberculosis vaccine was produced (1920s). South African-born American microbiologist Max Theiler developed vaccine 17-D, still the main form of protection against yellow fever (1937). Whooping cough vaccine licensed (1949). Jonas Salk developed the first successful vaccine for polio (1952). Smallpox was virtually eradicated (1980).
- William Roentgen discovered X-Rays, in 1895. Antoine Becquerel discovered radioactivity, in 1896. Joseph Thomason discovered the electron in 1897. Ernest Rutherford discovered alpha and beta rays (1899).
- Max Planck propounded Quantum theory, in 1900. The Geiger counter was invented by Hans Geiger and Rutherford in 1908. The discovery of the atomic nucleus was made by Rutherford (1911). The orbiting electron theory was propounded by Danish physicist Niels bohr.
- First and controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft (airplane) was accomplished by Orville Wright, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
- In 1905, Lewis Hine used photography to expose exploitation of children in American factories, causing protective laws to be enacted.
- Albert Einstein propounded his special theory of relativity, in 1905, and his general theory of relativity, in 1916.
- In 1908 Henry Ford used assembly-line production for the Model T, and Louis Bleriot flew across English Channel in 36 minutes, in 1909.
- In 1919 Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment allowing women to vote, and in 1920 Nineteenth Amendment was ratified by 36 states.
- In the 1920’s, called the Roaring Twenties, real wages increased by 21%; telephone ownership grew from 9 to 13 million; the first radio station began commercial broadcasting and election results were transmitted; in 1921 a Radio station in Newark, NJ, broadcast the World Series; and in 1927 Ford produced 15 millionth car (cars powered by fossil fuel benefit humanity).
- In 1930 Edwin Hubble confirmed the concept of an expanding universe that began with the so-called Big Bang.
- From 1939 to 1945, descending into chaos, certain Western nations ignited WWII, but other Western nations stopped them. Let’s give the Allies credit for a job well done.
- In 1947, Truman communicated through national television to entire country for the first time, speaking of world food shortages.
- From 1950-1953 America fought destructive and oppressive communism in Korea and established the demilitarized zone and freedom for South Korea.
- In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick described the molecular structure of genetic material, DNA.
- The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, in the USA.
- Following America’s policy in Korea, LBJ and Nixon fought communism in Southeast Asia, and Kissinger signed the Paris Peace Accord in 1973, which established the demilitarized zone and peace and freedom for South Vietnam, much like what happened in Korea.
(However, the American left abandoned Vietnam, allowing the communists to break the Paris Peace Accord and swamp South Vietnam, destroying our partial victory.)
- The first manned moon landing thrilled the world, in 1969.
- Begun in 1988, the Human Genome Project the complete nucleotide sequence of human DNA. The project aims to collect 10,000-15,000 genetic specimens from 722 ethnic groups.
- CERN’s (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire or European Council for Nuclear Research, begun in 1954 and later changed to Organisation Européan pour la Recherche Nucléair): Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP), a particle accelerator with a circumference of 27 km (16.8 mi.) came into operation in 1989. In 2012, scientists announced they observed the Higgs boson, which is thought to permeate all space-time and helps give other particles their mass.
- From 1973 to 2016, nine probes have studied Jupiter.
- In 2012, the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and sent back images.
- In 2015, a probe sails past Pluto.
- After WWII to the present, America has been the leader in satellite communications, smart technology, computer development, and the economic engine that has brought prosperity to the world.
Let’s wrap this up.
This list does not claim that other societies have not contributed to the world. Ancient China and Egypt and Mesopotamian societies discovered some things, though their modern versions have an ambiguous record.
Further, anyone can come up with a counter-list: Many wars, religious persecutions and pogroms, slavery, child labor, assassinations, and so on (as if other parts of the globe don’t do those things).
However, it is clear that despite the reversals and halts and zigzags and restarts, the West has gradually made unique improvements and has led the world in spreading prosperity and liberty and Christianity, the religion of personal freedom, when that religion is interpreted properly.
And so there is every reason to honor and support and defend Western civilization and fight its erosion by non-Western and internal anti-Western forces.
Live as free people.